Let’s get REAL with Real Estate

After I graduated College in 2010, I packed my bags and set sail to New York City. It was the moment I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. I knew that New York City’s hustle, bustle, and intensity would work in my favor. As the years picked up, I found myself moving every two years to different areas in Manhattan. First, it was Stuyvesant Town, located on 14th avenue and 1st avenue, then Upper East Side on 75th Street and 2nd Avenue, and lastly 60th and 3rd Avenue. The stress of each move and finding an apartment was rough. The only well-known site at the time was Craigslist. Even then, you had no idea who you were renting from, or if it was a viable lease and what the conditions were, the possibilities of something not going well were high. There were no reviews from prior tenants, so if you had no time to visit the place before moving, then you were stuck – SOL. However, Craigslist was the first marketplace to actually discover property rentals and still remains to be a digital platform people use to find apartments in different cities. Below is a quick snapshot of the rental site section. It is easy to navigate, listing an image with a brief description and contact information. Seamless right? 

As the demand of rental properties has increased, there are more opportunities for companies to come in and create platforms that are easier to use, more trustworthy, safer and even qualify a roommate if you need one! Once Zillow acquired StreetEasy, it became a popular and much more preferred site to use over Craigslist. Look at these new sites and how aesthetically pleasing their layouts and designs are. 

StreetEasyis New York City’s premier local real estate marketplace on mobile and web. It provides New Yorkers, and anyone shopping for real estate in NYC, accurate and comprehensive for-sale and for-rent listings from a plethora of real estate brokerages. It offers New York-specific information on buildings including access to a doorman or an elevator with proprietary data and useful search tools to help real estate or home shoppers navigate the complex real estate markets. 

Next on the list is Naked Apartments. This site offers broker reviews and the option to search by fee or no fee apartments. The most useful features are the clearly-formatted listings and the option to receive daily e-mail notifications for listings that meet one’s criteria. 

Zumper’s platform is clean and straightforward. Renters can search by neighborhood, price range, apartment size, and amenities. Its layout makes it seamless to see the latest listings, apartments with no broker’s fee and directly schedule a tour. The site has neighborhood reports and tracks rent trends across the city. 

Triplemint prides itself on offering “off-market access” and “personalized service” for its rental listings. The website has a map feature that lets you know the listing availabilities within New York’s neighborhood. However, many featured listings will require you to sign up before you can see more details on the property – annoying!

What all these real estate sites have in common is the on-the-go option with both an iOS app and Android apps that allow the renter to go anywhere and find something at any time with their mobile device. The “on-the-go” iOS option has been a significant change to the industry and has allowed for quicker searches.

In conclusion, no one site or app is going to have all the rentals that are on the market, any more than a single broker would. The only option is to try all of these apps and make a decision. 

On another thought, what if there was one rental app that was the umbrella for all major cities in the United States that featured every listing, every broker and all the information we needed to make the best decision?

The shift towards improving these digital rental sites has increased, but there is so much more that can be enhanced. What if they added video tours online so you can see the entire apartment live without going there physically? That is something that none of these sites have adapted yet. My hope with the revolution of AI implemented, data will be enhanced to support these video initiatives, and maybe even a person can have a personalized bot check out the apartment without you wasting time or leaving work early to see!

Calling all tech entrepreneurs to the mic! Here is your opportunity to be first in the market! What do you think? Do you think it is smart these sites are limited with listings or would you prefer to have access to every listing and broker? Why do you think the real estate rental market has been slow to adapt to emerging technologies and make larger strides in this area?

12 comments

  1. Hell yeah I moved almost every year for ~9 years in New York. I hated saving money! In any case, looking for apartments now in New Jersey for post-grad life, we’ve encountered a time-honored tradition in real estate that seems to know no technological bounds: The Bait and Switch. Listings on Zillow are not what they appear! You meet up with a broker only to be told that the listing you inquired about isn’t available. They should, if they don’t already, penalize for that. But how? Network effects demand more listings. You can’t place barriers to that process. Is it a necessary evil?

  2. Searching for apartments is downright miserable, especially when living in a city with shortages. Even in South Boston, trying to rent an apartment is a tricky task, realtors will have “open houses” for rentals going to the highest bidder! In my experience, I have had luck with Cragislist and Zillow. While it would be nice to see all listings on a single site or app, I am not sure how feasible it would be…or it would just take too long. Realtors/companies have their preferences and so do buyers/renters. I think it is smart that these sites are limited in their listings…for me it makes me come back to the site more or even have email notifications when new listings are posted.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this post! As a senior graduating and officially moving out of the dorms, the real estate market is very daunting. Housing is often peoples’ sanctuaries where they can retreat to a safe space. For some of us, it will our first experience and we have chosen cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and SF, which are notorious for high cost of living and inflated housing prices. The apps you wrote about provide a new level of transparency that didn’t previously exist. Again, these apps show how influential crowdsourcing can be when the information is compiled and accessible in one location.

  4. Nice post. I know there has been alot of interest in the buying market, and there is a lawsuit in Chicago trying to make realtor fees illegal the way they are currently formulated. I think the rental market is a great opportunity here…or you could just use airbnb. :)

  5. As a senior currently in the midst of apartment hunting in Boston, I feel the pain of trying to find an apartment. A one-stop shop seems like a great idea, but I’m sure there would be a ton of red tape to cut through to get there. There is actually a guy in my grade at BC who created a startup for real estate photographers/agents that uses drone footage and AI to create 3D modelings of homes/apartments. You should check it out: https://www.aryeo.com/.

  6. Honestly, I was quite surprised at how long it took companies to take over the different aspects of Craigslist and make them better. Using Craigslist sort of felt like I was on the dark web with anonymized email addresses and sometimes sketchy characters as you mentioned. The real estate market is definitely a tricky one to navigate especially without experience. Plus, all of these different apps showing the same or different listings really add to the confusion. However, I think that if all the listings were in one place, although more convenient for the consumer, people would begin to cry anti-trust like they’re doing now with Amazon. In either case, the real estate market is certainly one ripe for disruption with the proper technology. Look at Compass for instance, they’re a tech savvy real estate platform that has become a Boston based unicorn!

  7. I always thought it would be cool if there was a site that would find listings based on how much you, as an individual, want to spend. For example, if my personal budget is $1500/month, I could live in a 2 bedroom for $3000/month, or a 3 bedroom for $4500, etc, especially as finding roommates to fill extra spaces becomes easier with apps specifically for that (like Roomi). But I haven’t get found a site or app that organizes it that way! Probably small potatoes in the scheme of all the things wrong with real estate sites and apps, but I think it would be real helpful for young people!

  8. I’d only ever heard of Zillow as a real estate site but have only used it with friends to look at overly lavish mansions as a fun downtime activity. I hadn’t realized they listed apartments and didn’t realize there were so many other apps for apartment hunting as they only one I’ve ever lived in was suggested through a friend who connected me to a broker. I will definitely use some of your app suggestions going forward in post grad but the whole thing does seem daunting with so many options and so many places to find information. I think it would be helpful to combine all apps on one platform however I could see certain brokers wanting to keep their listings exclusive to certain potential renters or clientele and not wanting the general public to have access. I think the real estate market is a very personal business, as it is sales, I think brokers would prefer to market their own listings and wouldn’t want to be taken over by an app doing their job for them. While I think this would be of great help to consumers and brokers in the long run I can understand the slow adaption in this space because of its hands-on nature.

  9. We really do need a rental app that is the umbrella for all major cities and each individual neighborhood within them. Like the Amazon of Real Estate… or will real estate be next industry that Amazon itself dives into? Who knows. Anyway, I see both sides of wanting/not wanting more visibility when it comes to rental properties. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am terrified by the idea of finding the perfect place to live with the perfect number of roommates. On the other hand, if I were a landlord, I would definitely find it important to filter through my potential tenants. Nevertheless, I do think that the industry will change drastically in the near future, and I am both anxious and excited to see what happens.

  10. Are these apps really a threat to Craigslist housing boards though? Hear me out! Although these sites are definitely much more user friendly and more aesthetically pleasing, I associate them with working with a broker directly which I LOATHE doing (I mean, don’t we all?) and avoid at all costs. The appeal of craigslist for me continues to be the “classifieds” feel to it, it’s quick and dirty, anyone can make a post and usually a really great option to sublet or transfer leases. Of course, there’s a lot of vetting to do and I can only speak to experiences of finding open rooms rather than securing a full apartment but it’s been my way to go for years now. Photos that don’t have the “real estate” listing feel to them are more authentic and for me often a much better measure of the type of property I’m going to be looking at without the countless falsehoods I have had to deal with brokers.

  11. I had no idea about the last 3 platforms you listed. I luckily did not have to use Craigslist in searching for housing. I definitely heard mixed reviews of using Craigslist just because there was never a real way of telling what a condition of a place would be or if the person behind the posting was a total sketch. I think the real estate market has been slow to adapt because a company may not want to adopt an emerging technology, only to be afraid of its competitor doing the same and the company falling behind because there is a huge learning curve or not complete buy in from the sales force. So instead, they stick with the ancient technology and try to stay ahead with information and partnerships. I think it is smart that these sites have limited searches, but if I were trying to take over, I’d try to have as many listing and offerings as possible.

  12. Great post! I also didn’t know about the last 3 apps you mentioned. I have always found apartments thanks to friend of friend recommendations craigslist and such can be not the most trustworthy. I look forward to trying these apps over the next year, but would definitely prefer to have one non-stop shop for all apartments!

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